Category Archives: What do we say?

“Paralympics showed us great achievments but #ParalympicsFail as goverment and media give scrounger image.” Jenny, Scope Twitter follower.
What are people around Britain saying about disabled people today? Is there a different story we should be telling, and if so what is it?
This is where we’ll be discussing what makes a compelling campaign message and what the story of this campaign needs to be. As we get further along in campaign development, we’ll try out potential campaign messages and ask for your feedback.

End the Awkward is coming

Most people feel awkward around disability. This summer we want to End the Awkward.

Not enough people come into contact with disabled people. So when they do, they don’t know what to do. They panic, or worse, avoid situations for fear of doing the wrong thing. We call this ‘innocent ignorance’. End the Awkward is all about changing that.

Last year, our campaign received a huge response. Our adverts – spoof public service broadcasts featuring Channel 4 presenter Alex Brooker – reached over 20 million people, including more than 1.5 million on YouTube alone.

More than 160,000 people read our tips for ending the awkward. Over 100 stories appeared across the media covering national, regional and even international websites and newspapers. We found 81% of those who saw our ads said they had made them think differently – and that’s why we’re doing it again.

How we’re going to End the Awkward

This year, we’re planning an entire season of End the Awkward. We hope to get more people talking about awkwardness, sharing their stories and thinking differently about disability.

We don’t want to give it all away, but we’re planning loads of exciting content.

Last year lots of people were inspired by the campaign to share their own stories of awkwardness and disability, this year we want even more anecdotes and we’re planning new ways of sharing them.

To kick things off Breaking Bad star RJ Mitte is sharing his awkward moments.

We’re also excited to announce that later in the summer we’re also going to partnering with a major broadcaster on some short films that will take awkward scenarios to the next level.

We’re still a few weeks away from our big launch, but you can either check back on the End the Awkward page or you can sign up to our mailing list and we’ll send you everything you need to End the Awkward.

Have you got your own awkward story? Share it with us. We’d love to hear it.

What the General Election means for us

(Image copyright Michael D Beckwith 2013)

Parliament returns on Monday with a new Conservative Government and a new Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson MP.

In the run up to the General Election, we called on the next Government to improve the lives of disabled people by:

  • protecting the value of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) / Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
  • halving the disability employment gap
  • investing in social care so that all disabled people have the support they need to live as independently as possible.

Halving the disability employment gap

We’re really pleased the Conservatives identified halving the disability employment gap as an important part of realising their objective of full employment. Their manifesto said ‘We will aim to halve the disability employment gap; we will transform policy, practice and public attitudes.’

The BBC have reported that as part of the Government’s plans to achieve full employment, there will be an Employment Bill within the Queen’s Speech that aims to create two million new jobs over the next five years.

We know that disabled people want the same opportunities to work as everyone else, and nine in ten disabled people are in work or have worked in the past. Yet only 48 per cent are currently in work. We will be looking for the Government to ensure that disabled people are at the heart of employment strategies and regional growth plans.

This week we have seen a welcome rise in the number of disabled people in work but the disability employment gap has remained largely unchanged over the last decade, at around 30 per cent.

We have made a number of recommendations on how the Government could increase the disability employment rate by:

  • creating more flexible workplaces
  • ensuring disabled people are connected to regional growth
  • ensuring that all disabled people receive effective and personalised support.

There is also an important economic case for addressing the disability employment gap. A recent report by Scope found that a 10 percentage point increase in the disability employment rate would increase Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by £45 billion by 2030 and also result in a £12billion gain to the public purse.

It’s vital that the Government continues to see addressing the disability employment gap as a key part in achieving full employment, so that disabled people who want and are able to work are supported to find a jobs, stay in work and progress in their careers.

Extra costs payments

Life can cost more if you are disabled and the extra costs faced by disabled people can have a significant impact on disabled people’s living standards. Scope research shows that disabled people spend an average of £550 a month on costs related to their disability. PIP and DLA are payments that are designed to contribute towards these extra costs.

During the election the Conservative Party announced they planned to make £12billion worth of cuts to welfare and there was much speculation on their welfare spending plans.

Last year in his speech at the Conservative Party Conference the Chancellor said that a future Conservative Government would protect DLA and PIP in any freeze on benefits, a commitment that was also in their Manifesto.

We’ll be looking to the Government to protect the value of extra costs payments.

Independent living

Working age disabled people are a third of all social care users. Social care supports disabled people to live independently, work and play an active part in the community.

However levels of unmet need within social care are high, with 97,000 disabled people who would have received social care five years ago, now receiving no support. That is why Scope has called on the Government to introduce a new sustainable funding settlement for social care.

During the General Election there was considerable focus on the conservative party’s commitments on NHS funding, but it’s crucial though that investment in the NHS is not looked at in isolation from social care funding.

Earlier this year the Care and Support Alliance published the findings of a survey of over 800 English GPs which found that almost nine in ten believe reductions in social care services have contributed to pressures in their surgeries.

When the Government sets out their priorities within the Queen’s Speech, we hope to hear about increased and ongoing investment in social care, so that the ambitions of the Care Act, to promote independence and well-being, can be realised.

Find out more about Scope’s campaign to improve living standards (PDF).

What can cats teach us about digital campaigning?

The game changers

ben furberBen Furber is Digital Manager for Asthma UK.  He writes here in a personal capacity. 

All charities come about because of great injustices that either no one is doing anything about or not fixing fast enough. We have a raw and emotional desire to do something about it and want everyone to feel that too.

So to get everyone to take these injustices seriously, we bombard them with constantly serious and emotional stories, stats and figures. While our goals are always serious, do the messages have to be?

The digital world shows us another side of ourselves. The success of Buzzfeed shows us that to be successful online we don’t have to constantly be serious.

Buzzfeed’s core is cats. My problem is that cats ARE serious for Asthma UK. Pets are a trigger for 56% of people with asthma.

So we turned that on it’s head and asked our supporters to make the problem visual.

Asthma 1

Humour can also be part of big campaigns. Twenty-two people die from asthma every week, most of these are preventable (up to 90%). So we’re launching a campaign to do something about it. The first stage of Stop Asthma Deaths had a simple message. There are risks you can take, is not having your puffer one of them?

We’re not the only ones. Think Comic Relief, Movember or Greenpeace’s still amazing Volkswagen campaign.

For Scope there’s loads of potential. With so much misinformation around about disability, a witty and cutting response to an opponent can do wonders. A 20 stat infographic might be successful on Facebook for a day but what about a series disinfographics showing the lunacy of the UK government’s position? Or explaining the latest policy changes to a young child, filming their response.

Of course the final message is serious, but big campaigns are long – do they have to start with a frown?

Wanted: Campaigners to review our creative concepts!

The game changers

We’ve been developing ideas for our campaign next year, to help change public attitudes towards disabled people. There’s some interesting thinking, and not what you’d necessarily expect from Scope.

This builds on our research so far, including attitudes towards disabled people and the discourse around disability.

We would like to start getting some initial feedback from people interested in campaigning to help us develop them further. We need to do this in person (we can’t release ideas online on the Game Changers yet) as it’s early stages and needs to be explained in person.

We are running a group to get this feedback soon, probably during the week beginning the 9 December and would love to invite members of the Game Changers community to participate.

We can’t guarantee that there will be room for everybody, but if you would like to get involved in helping to shape the creative aspect of the campaign, simply email us at with your name, age, whereabouts in the country you are from and a couple of lines about your interest in campaigning and why you would like to be involved in the focus group.

We’re pretty tight on time, so please drop me a line before Friday 6 December to be considered.

The power of storytelling and why curation is better than control

The game changers

john coventry

John Coventry is the UK Communications Director at

At we have a unique position within campaigning: we are curators of content, working with our users to bring the real human side of some of the UK’s most pressing issues to life. This presents both the platform and our users with incredible opportunities to create high impact, quick turnaround change; it also means we are in the privileged position of telling powerful and moving stories that build compelling movements.

I would love to see Scope becoming a platform for the people it works with: to provide a base of expertise and support but to let the powerful stories of service users and partners come to the fore.

Now more than ever people from all backgrounds and with a wide range of impairments can have a voice and individuals can campaign with the power of organisations. Scope has a fantastic opportunity to bring a wide range of people into debates – going beyond “case studies” to a point where disabled people are at the very forefront of the agenda-setting work that Scope does. It is not enough to advocate for people. It’s time to work with people to help them find their voice and give them access to those in power: your campaigns will be more powerful for it; the victories more credible and the impact of society at large more profound. It will inspire a new generation of campaigners.

There is a tendency within organisations to worry about two things: Campaign messaging and brand profile – often this hits your ability to work in an agile and disruptive way. But a young woman speaking from the heart about her experiences will do more for public engagement with your issue than a 60 page branded policy report and potentially have a bigger impact. With platform campaigning, it’s about making the conditions right for change. So be clear on the asks and the policy work that’s happening behind the scenes, then let the people who really matter go out and make the difference.

What is Britain saying about disability? Part 2: emerging alternatives

The game changers

Scope summary of research by Linguistic Landscapes. linguistic logo

As we seek to shift attitudes with our next campaign, we recognise how important language is. We recently released the first part of some research into discourse: what people are saying about disability in Britain today, including disabled and non-disabled people, online communities, the media, Government, charities, campaigners and others.

Below are some of the emerging alternative discourses – other ways of speaking and thinking that could be built on. These include individuals actively speaking out for themselves, people breaking down barriers respectfully, making disability more ‘normal’ through the power of popular culture – and more.

Angry, active dissent

Some disabled campaigning groups explicitly take on and challenge the language of the dominant discourse. By doing this they expand what it’s possible to say about disability, and also enable more moderate voices to occupy the middle ground. But they can also tend to reinforce difference from the rest of society, whether or not that’s intended.

  • Overt rejection of ‘care’Terms like “caring” and “help” do not feature on websites of these campaigning groups, whereas for mainstream charities they are in the top 50 words. Rights feature large instead.
  • Anger is reframed as positive, fuelling action, for example “We have consistently united in anger and celebration”. Disabled people are described as vocal agents of change.
  • The raw experience of being disabled is present. There are references to hate crime, harassment, hostility, and these are not sanitised.

Self-mocking, reframing the negative

  • Some disabled groups or individuals reclaim or mock terms of abuse directed at them e.g. Benefit Scrounging Scum, Diary of a Benefit Scrounger etc. This is a powerful way of reducing the effect of the negative, but ultimately to replace the dominant discourse you need something else too.

Alternative ways of talking about disability

Other alternatives below don’t directly take on the dominant discourse, but they do provide other ways of speaking that could help to shift the way society talks and thinks.

Active individuals

  • Voices in the first person – individuals telling their own stories, rather than talking about disabled people and as a group.
  • Active aspirations and hopes – They have hopes not for a non-disabled normality but for ‘normal’ aspirational things. Trailblazers for young people: “be an undercover reporter… make an impact.. become a media star… help build a team …”

It’s okay not to know, it’s okay to ask

  • It’s possible to create respectful ‘legitimised curiosity’Instead of disabled people being alien, ‘not knowing’ is changed from disrespect to respectful interest. The Last Leg’s hashtag #isitokto encourages people to discuss what’s OK around disability. The Paralympics explained categorisations of impairments.

The power of popular culture to normalise

  • Disability appears more normal when featured within another dominant topic. On ladsy late night chat show The Last Leg, disability is just another topic, a recurring one – but recurring just as football, sex or celebrity might be. This approach powerfully ‘normalises’ disability by portraying it subtly. Could we see Gardener’s World or Location, Location, Location include disabled people without comment (as they do for gay people)?
  • Mixing disabled and non-disabled people is powerful. On The Last Leg the presenters are also a mix, which potentially breaks down the ‘us and them’ (they are all presenters, united in satire).

And more…

Other alternative discourses include:

  • ‘Calling out’ the non-disabled, reversing who’s included/excluded and challenging what’s considered normal.
  • Reversing the assumption that disability can only be a bad thing, e.g. “I celebrate my ‘MS birthday’”, “I celebrate Deaf Day. March 20th marks my entry to deaf life!”
  • Resisting sharp line between us and them.
  • Talking about technology and how it enables all of us, disabled and non-disabled people.

What do you think?

We know there’s a lot here, even in this short summary of what was a massive piece of research.  How do you think we should be responding as campaigners?  What does it mean for Scope and others?

We’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please comment below or tweet with the hashtag #ScopeGameChangers.

What is Britain saying about disability? Part 1: the dominant story

The game changers

Scope summary of research by Linguistic Landscapes. linguistic logo

With our next campaign we want to work with others to begin shifting attitudes towards disabled people for the better. Recognising the power of language and its influence on how people think and act, we wanted to build a comprehensive picture of how people – both disabled and non-disabled – are talking around disability.

As well as our research into public attitudes towards disabled people, we worked with Linguistic Landscapes (who have previously partnered with organisations including Oxfam GB, Prostate Cancer UK, the NHS and various companies) on a ‘discourse analysis’ – basically an analysis of how people talk and write about disability. They analysed over 500 texts from 2010 to now across the media, companies providing disability services, disability charities (including Scope) and campaigners, the Government, blogs, social media and elsewhere on the internet.

In this first summary of their research, it shows there is a dominant way of talking about disability that’s entrenched in Britain today. The main narrative that’s out there – accidentally or intentionally – says that disabled people are seen as passive, homogenous not individuals, separate from ‘normal’ society, hopeless and voiceless.


      • Things happen to disabled people by others. Movement is a common metaphor and also disabled people being described as recipients: “changes to social security aren’t helping disabled people, they are pushing them into poverty” ; “how on earth they had justified throwing disabled children to the wolves”
      • Many tend to talk about rather than to disabled people:
        “they/them” not “you”
        “more than 100,000 disabled people are or risk soon being denied vital care and support”
        The voices of disabled people themselves are less evident in the mainstream than voices speaking about disabled people.
      • Where disabled people do themselves speak, there is often limited visibility of their impairment
        Disabled people’s voices appear mainly in writing, on the radio and only more recently on TV. This is partly why Paralympics was so radical by showing disabled people visibly and prominently.

‘Other’: separate or different from the mainstream 

      • Disabled people are often put with other marginalised groups
        “Sick and disabled”, “Old and disabled”, “The poor and disabled”, “Women, children and disabled people”, “BME, women and disabled (students)”.
      • This powerfully sustains an invisible norm that’s taken for granted, the ‘normal’ are the able-bodied, the unimpaired, men, straight people, white people, the non-poor etc.
      • Disabled people are overwhelmingly featured as the exception
        “Those with a disability are twice as likely to live below the poverty line – and more likely to be victims of crime”
        “Disabled people are more likely than non-disabled people to experience material deprivation”
      • Common metaphors of war and survival reinforce the sense of difference
        “parents battling for support”, “barely surviving”, “war on welfare”

 Homogenous: a mass group 

      • Stripping away people’s individuality – when terms like “disabled people” are used a lot, the person is defined only by their disability and they can lose individual characteristics , even as to whether the disabled person is an adult or child. There is very little about important aspects of pleasure, like humour, relationships and sex.
      • Stories of individuals are powerful but unfortunately too often these are negative, e.g. individual ‘benefit scrounger’ stories. These have particular power when people have little understanding of the wider group of ‘disabled people’. 

Work and individual responsibility: a massive topic

      • Not working is immoral – A recent and now major context for many conversations related to disability is work, for example in politics and the media. It is a moral discourse where you are only valuable – and ‘normal’ – if you are in employment.
      • The ‘benefit scrounger’ narrative fits within this, where being passive (not working) combines with being separate (different from the majority of hardworking people), combines with individual stories.

Some of the other findings showed that disabled people are often described as special and vulnerable, in an inevitably negative situation and permanently disabled with little understanding of the nuance of people’s impairments.

What do you think? And what are the alternatives?

The end result of the language we all use isn’t necessarily intended – often it can just be unthinking.  Because there is such an established way of talking about disabled people, most people won’t question it most of the time. But seeing it laid out here sparks thinking: is this the picture we want to paint or a different one?

Please comment below or tweet with the hashtag #ScopeGameChangers.  

We have now published the second part of our findings – some of the alternatives to the dominant narrative and hope for change. Let us know what you think.

Help, harm or be heard? The power of language

The game changers

Joe BrewerJoe Brewer is Founder of Cognitive Policy Works and lead researcher at DarwinSF 

Have you ever wondered about the importance of language? Noticed the way that people think and talk about an issue is somehow “out of touch” with what is true and real? Aspired to see a shift in the way political and social issues are understood?

Then you are in good company.

I have specialized in the study of cognitive linguistics and its many applications in politics for nearly a decade. During this time I have observed that the words we use (or don’t use!) come to shape how we understand the world. If you want people to dislike the government, call for “tax cuts” that imply taxation to be an unfair burden on the public. And if you want people to care about the common good, talk about “civic duty” and the benefits of living in a supportive community.

One way to analyze the power of words is through discourse analysis. A discourse is all of the ways people think and talk about a particular topic. You can, as two examples, have a discourse on education or a discourse on climate change. There will be some people who are influential on a topic and whose opinions shape their followers. And there will be official media channels from trusted sources that define the “correct” names for topics. This is true for anything that is widely talked about.

The composition of a discourse can be helpful or harmful to different people. For example, when I assisted in a major research study on poverty and the development discourse (published as the Finding Frames report a few years ago), it became clear that organizations working to bring poverty to an end were unknowingly complicit in the rise of wealth inequality throughout the Global South. They were hurting those whom they aspired to help!

This happened because most development NGO’s think and talk about themselves using the language of “charity” and “aid” – both of which reinforce the notion that privileged, wealthy Westerners are the powerful actors and that the poor (often dark skinned and female) Southerners are passive victims of their impoverished plight. By framing the discourse in this manner, they were unwittingly contributing to the power structures that create poverty. I have since begun working with a new anti-poverty organization called The Rules that is applying these insights to transform the global discourse on development and poverty and remedy this situation.

A new study of the language around disability shows the same problematic use of language. “The disabled” are separated out into an exclusive category of society. The language about them reinforces notions of superiority among “normal” people and steals away the vocal power of disabled persons by always placing them in a passive role. The good people at Scope share some of the findings from this study and encourage healthy conversations about what can be done about it.

I offer up this brief post to suggest that discourse is a vitally important topic of study. The words we use have power to shape reality. And so we must incorporate the best research tools available for revealing the strategic implications of language use. To do so is to shine a beacon of light on our own inner worlds. Failure to do so is to wander around in the dark, unaware even when we make massive strategic blunders.

I hope this short commentary offers insight and empowerment to all who seek to alter social discourse and reframe the debate in a way that empowers the marginalized and restores social justice in society.

What is Britain saying about disability?

Behind the barriers of disability

The game changers


Lee Adams is an activist and author of the blog, Touching Elephants.

Campaigns have the power to change the thoughts and feelings of individuals and nations alike but the subject of disability within them is, through no fault of its own, becoming a barrier to itself. My own personal challenge with disability is not unique but finding myself behind the barriers of disability is. There has been some fantastic work done to highlight the challenges of disability and more importantly the stigma that disabled people face, but there is much more to be done. Disability is becoming a buzzword without any real understanding attached to it and, in my experience, it is left to social media to provide a better understanding of it and a space in which individuals are considered, understood and valued.

Perceptions of disability

Personally, I have really enjoyed the media coverage surrounding mental health and disability, but its objective is not demonstrated in everyday life. We use many terms and words associated with disability and partially due to the 2012 London Paralympics, we have seen a major shift in how society acknowledges disability and in particular mental health. I have started to see debates about depression and illness, about the term disability and about who is considered disabled. It has stopped being about the individual which for disabled people, charities, organisations and campaigns has become a huge barrier towards eradicating the stigma that such interpretation causes. Discussions on disability shouldn’t be focused on what we can’t do, but on what we can do as individuals. Campaigns that achieve this will ensure disabled people have a voice and deserved sense of belonging in society.

‘Live Aid’ for disability

We need to think carefully about our perception of disability and the words we use to describe it. The more we negate a true understanding of disability, the more challenges charities will face in their quest to reduce the stigma surrounding it. I remember watching ‘Live Aid’as a teenager. Looking back, we couldn’t have envisaged the longevity and success that such a campaign has had in increasing our awareness of the challenges and suffering that third world countries face. It is somewhat confusing then, that we are not able to apply this shift in attitudes towards other areas of society and in particular, towards disability. Stigma is a barrier that comes from a lack of understanding and is arguably more debilitating than disability itself. It isolates people and creates an unrealistic society with no appreciation for individuals.

Disability in the media

Areas of the media sometimes create or add to this stigma. We often find ourselves watching a programme featuring topics that rely on an impactful headline without giving any real substance to the story. This leaves the audience to come to their own conclusions and may lead to a misguided view of a very serious problem. Even with the availability of communication outlets such as TV, radio, written media and social media, campaigns and organisations still face a huge battle to communicate the awareness and acceptance of disability. The term disability should not be a buzz word; it is a term that represents a part of society. All it takes is some knowledge and understanding to remove these huge barriers and to make progress. Let’s embrace the motivation of campaigns and allow individuals to enjoy their lives without judgement or stigma.

Have a great campaign and above all have some fun!

Right now, we’re creating plans for an ambitious new campaign. It’s a game-changing long-term campaign that aims to influence the next government, raise living standards for disabled people in Britain and change attitudes. We need you to help us shape it.

Getting weird…with Jonah Sachs

The game changers

jonah sachsJonah Sachs is the CEO and Co-founder of Free Range Studios. He is an internationally recognised storyteller, designer and entrepreneur. He is also the author of the best-selling book, Winning the Story Wars.

First, let me say this open process is how campaigning should be done. Non-profit campaigns need to break expectations of their audiences if they are really going to change anything and get beyond the choir. That’s terribly hard to do for a group of people that knows an issue well, believes passionately in it and usually speaks to others who agree. Taking this beyond your four walls, getting weird ideas and testing will change everything.

So let me get weird right away and say that the “disability brand” is broken. And it has the opposite problem that most traditional product brands have. With a product, you usually have something inherently unemotional, unheroic and low stakes that you have to puff up and add meaning and connection to. In the case of disabled people, it’s the opposite. People naturally root for those who have the odds stacked against them but struggle mightily to overcome them. It’s considered the most basic goodness to show compassion and care for others who, through no fault of their own, have to work harder just to get by. Although many of us think disability doesn’t touch our lives, 1 in 7 people is disabled. We all know and love disabled people.

And yet, say the word “disabled” and the images that come to people’s mind will be mixed and muddled – and often invoke a spiteful narrative. That’s the level you need to be working on. The UN Convention will not be the lead. We have to start at the gut emotional level to redefine what comes to mind when you think disabled. Have you seen this video? That’s a new image of the disabled. Not pity and not some flat declaration that this guy has dignity. This is someone that makes us, the audience want to be better through his disability. It’s time for a new story about what disability is and what disabled people and their allies (the other key heroes of this story) can do. This is basic good vs evil. Don’t be afraid to say so.